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Van Gogh: The Life
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on March 6, 2017
The authors of Van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifeh and Gregory Smith, set out to write the most complete life of Vincent Van Gogh as possible, and they have admirably succeeded. This is not a book for everyone. The detail will put off many people interested in Van Gogh but anyone who want the full picture will find the detail rewarding. This is not to say I did not skim through several pages. For me, the most interesting part of the biography is the years Van Gogh spent in France. The book was a profound experience as I got to know Van Gogh much more than through exhibition catalogues and shorter biographies that were not prone to analysis. For those readers, myself included, who knew the Time-Life and Hollywood version of Vincent Van Gogh, this biography opens up the subject as never before and one may not enjoy discovering the flesh and blood Vincent with all of his failings and strange personality.

The authors have had access to far more information and were given access to a huge amount of archival material from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. They also benefited from a new, six-volume edition of Van Gogh’s letters. The result is a very readable and full portrait of Vincent Van Gogh and his family. The complexity of Vincent’s sometimes strained relations with his brother Theo are well detailed as well as Vincent’s inner life, his desperate hopes for an artist’s colony and his manic attacks. The descriptions of many of Vincent’s paintings provide wonderful insights and are beautifully written. Vincent Van Gogh. If you have an interest in exploring Vincent Van Gogh’s life in depth, this biography is all that you need.
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on October 28, 2015
Being a well researched and well written book, I found tremendous pleasure in reading it. Yet it was not an easy read, for there is little joy or humour to be found in van Gogh's life. This poor bloke had an extremely raw deal almost from cradle to grave. Reading of all his mishaps for almost 600 pages tended to dampen my spirits occasionally, especially knowing there is no happy ending. ( I read fragments of Wodehouse in between to counter the gloom.)
Vincent was probably basically an introvert, but what made him almost impossible to get along with seemed to be his eccentricity, his shot fuse, his obstinacy, his obsessive nature and his general tendency to rub people the wrong way. at some time during a relationship. It was only his brother Theo, bless his saintly heart, who showed compassion and love for most of their adult lives.
And yet, unappealing as his personality appeared to be, it also emerged from his copious letters that he was in fact also a sensitive human being with heartfelt remorse about the problems and disappointments he caused his parents . Despite his lack of formal schooling he emerged from his letters as a gifted writer and a reader of high quality (French) literature. In addition there can be no doubt about his formidable knowledge of painters and their paintings.
Tragically, the first signs of some acknowledgement of the greatness of Vincent's art only appeared shortly before his death, and he himself was unsure whether it would last. As is well known, only one of his paintings was sold at that stage.
The question remains: with his way of looking at life, with the mental illness that tormented him in his last year of life, would he have been really happy even if he became rich and famous during his lifetime?
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on April 1, 2017
A magical scholarly work of epic scope.
Not only are you learning about Vincent but also the world around him.
Historical context is so important when learning about a figure from the past.
It's what bad biographies lack: the place and times of that particular individual.
I have read many books about Van Gogh including his letters and it is a joy to learn so much more and in such a well written way. Simply excellent.
And I'm only on page 127!
And don't forget about the book's website created by the authors with an additional
6000 pages of notes!!
Get it. And get a used hardcover. I did.
It's beautiful and only cost
10$(including shipping)
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on January 15, 2015
Absolutely brilliant biography. The scope of the authors staggers me. To bring the complete picture, they immersed themselves in the attitudes of the people of the time, and amazingly grasped the salient features from the influential authors and novels of the era, especially Zola. The authors utterly digested the thousands of letters between Vincent and, not only Theo, but all of his family and friends. They took account of all the many testimonies and interviews recorded by people who knew Vincent. I learned so much that I am still processing the information. Many times I felt like putting the book down because Vincent was so unpleasant, ungrateful and discourteous. He brought so much of his trouble onto himself . . . but knowledge that this disagreeable fellow produced works of art that changed the course of Modernism and has brought so much pleasure to so many kept me going. In the end, my sympathies were won over, especially when it becomes clear that Vincent truly suffered some sort of mental illness (temporal lobe epilepsy?). I dreaded the end when it came, but am fascinated by the information about the shooting death. Can't believe for a moment that Vincent intended to end his life that day - but as it becomes clear, he was not willing to fight against dying. What a book - what a reading experience - what an artist!
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on August 23, 2016
This is a VERY detailed, well-documented biography of Van Gogh. It is very long - over 800 pages, but it has provided many insights that I had not known. The struggles Van Gogh went through with both mental illness and learning to be an artist were arduous. You will end up wondering what being his brother must have been like! I am a docent at a major art museum and will definitely use this information when describing Van Gogh to our visitors.
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on May 28, 2013
A thorough biography of Van Gogh! To the less than a handful who panned this book: of COURSE there is a bit of speculation here: the two things Vincent is best known for, outside of his paintings, are the ear occurrence and the suicide (accident/murder?)--both stories were told to history from very potentially unreliable sources (those who might have been hiding their own guilt in the matter), and so sensible speculation is left open. This book is endlessly rich in factual detail and what few suggestions they do make (and they DO remain suggestions--the authors do not make wild proclamations about anything when it comes to some speculation)rely on what the facts suggest, not simply the authors. In short, try to write the life of ANYONE without having to speculate a bit, let alone someone as complex and complicated as Van Gogh. And to those who saw this as a totally negative portrait: "what were you reading?" I didn't get that at all. Van Gogh is not presented as a prophet or saint, but who could be? And did you not get the authors' main thesis for why the accidental shooting (if so it was)was covered up?: Van Gogh's ongoing good-heartedness toward his ruffian tormenters. As to the accidental shooting theory. Yeah, it's a possibility, and the authors make a case for it. I am not sure if I am won over, but it certainly seems a possibility, especially given the circumstances surrounding the gun.
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on December 9, 2014
Excellent! It was a lengthy book (by my standards) but very comprehensive and well done. It makes great use of the thousands of letters and correspondence between Vincent, his brother Theo, and others during his life that gives you great insight as to what was happening in his life and his thoughts. Very well done. My only criticism might be the desire to see more of his art included in the book to fully frame out the discussion and what I thought to be an overuse of some very heady words which required some research on my part. I would recommend to all art lovers, history buffs, and especially fans of Van Gogh.
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on February 2, 2014
If people really had "souls" this reader would declare that Vincent Van Gogh surely had the purest one of all!

Having read many books on the life of Van Gogh, I find none has achieved these standards of excellence. This is a tremendously gripping story filled in as never before; hard to put down.

Vincent Van Gogh lived a life of never ending struggle for funds and recognition in the post-impressionist art world. On the strength of an unquenchable artistic gift he persevered, forever sharing his gift with all of humanity.

Vincent Van Gogh holds the whole wide world in his hands.
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on January 9, 2013
A gem. For anyone who is interested in Van Gogh .... this mammoth work covers his life and his work in fascinating and entertaining detail. It's a joy to read. At almost 1000 pages, it is a tome, to be sure. But so readable one can keep it close by to enjoy in bits and pieces. The most intriguing portion is the author's wonderful sleuthing which uncovered a deeply moving possibility ... that Van Gogh did not commit suicide, but rather spared two young boys who mistakenly fired the fatal gun shot. The forensic details are very convincing.

A picture emerges of not only a revolutionary artistic genius .... but a deeply spiritual and generous heart. The myth of the mad artist is beautifully laid to rest.

Highly recommended.

PS. The book is HUGE. It really makes little difference between the hardback or the paperback. Neither is a "lap" book. so personally I would probably choose the hardback .... because it's a book one will refer to for years to come.
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on October 2, 2013
Everything, and I mean everything one ever wanted to know about Vincent Van Gogh. Very detailed sometimes depressing look at a man with marvelous talent but devious depression. There are many, many debates as to Van Gogh's persona. The surprise is always to me that his use of light and color were so dismissed in his lifetime. And I don't mean this from the perspective (pardon the pun) of having "heard it all" about Van Gogh.
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